In a decision of enormous significance for Tamil Nadu and indeed for politics in the rest of India, the Karnataka High Court has acquitted J. Jayalalithaa, former Chief Minister of the state, of all charges in the disproportionate assets case against her.
“The appeal is admitted,” vacation judge C.R. Kumaraswamy announced tersely at 11 am when the court convened, her counsel told reporters. The detailed judgment on why her conviction has been set aside was released later and is available here.
In essence, the High Court concluded that the prosecution and trial court had erred by underestimating Jayalalithaa’s actual income and overestimating her expenditure on the marriage of her foster son and on property that was allegedly owned by others on a benami basis. After recalculating her income and expenditure, the HC concluded that the quantum of disproportionate assets in her possession amounted to only 8.12 per cent of her income, a figure below the 10 per cent threshold for conviction.
The acquittal means Jayalaithaa can be sworn in once again as CM, a post she forfeited when a special court in Bangalore convicted her last September. The 10-year disqualification from electoral politics that her conviction came with also now stands removed.
While the special prosecutor has the right to appeal her acquittal before the Supreme Court, Monday’s decision means Jayalalithaa is free to capitalize on what her party supporters hope will be a wave of sympathy for the ‘puratchi thalaivi’ by perhaps calling snap elections.
The term of the Tamil Nadu assembly ends next May. However, the actual scheduling of polls is a decision of the Election Commission.
Read The Wire’s primer for a detailed background on the case.